Application Information & FAQ
Admission to our program is extremely competitive: each year, the psychology graduate program admits about 10 of 120 applicants. The extent to which applicants research interests match those of faculty members is a significant part of the admissions decision.
Planning a Graduate School Application?
Our program is built on an apprenticeship model. Graduate students work very closely with one or more faculty mentors and often have a close connection with other trainees and research staff in the faculty member’s laboratory. As a result, finding the right faculty mentor is as essential as finding the right graduate program. In addition, our graduate program admissions process is structured such that students are accepted into a lab of a specific faculty mentor (or mentors).
Faculty members value students with the background knowledge, interests, and skillset to succeed in their labs. For both of these reasons, it makes sense to learn as much as you can about faculty research, their lab, and their mentoring. We encourage you to visit faculty members' lab websites, reach out to current trainees in a prospective faculty mentor’s lab, and connect via email.
It might feel awkward, but it is a great idea to reach out to prospective faculty mentors in advance of submitting your application. You can find out if faculty are planning to take new students (if they are not, you can direct your effort and time elsewhere). Or, you might get useful information (e.g., we have a new program that might be a great fit for you, there is a different Ph.D. program at our institution that would fit you better, there is a new project that might interest you, etc.). Even more importantly, this will initiate a relationship with your potential faculty advisor.
There is little to lose (beyond a lack of reply), and much to gain. But, a simple email might open doors and get a conversation started with a new faculty mentor.
How do I email a potential faculty advisor?
We recommend that you label your email with a subject header like “Inquiry about graduate study” or something similar. In the body of the email you should introduce yourself and briefly include any relevant background and experience. You might include a curriculum vitae (CV, see below for more details on what this is and how to make one). You can express your interest in the lab and Ph.D. program. Be very clear and specific about what leads you to be interested in this faculty member’s research. You might inquire about advice for the application process, or whether the faculty member is planning to take students in the coming application cycle.
It really helps if you can convey that this is not a form letter that you have sent to many faculty. Be specific about the research questions that excite you. Make clear that your interest is sincere by connecting with a paper published by the lab, or a research interest of the lab.
What is a Curriculum Vitae (CV) and how do I make one?
Curriculum Vitae (CV) literally means “course of life.” It is a form of academic resume. In contrast to a traditional resume, a CV places greater emphasis on your educational and training history than on professional experience or job skills. It is not as limited in length as a resume (although at your career stage, it may currently be about one or two pages). You can find helpful information on creating a CV online.
What kind of response can I expect?
Faculty might respond with a brief email indicating whether they are taking students, they might respond with something more detailed including an invitation to video chat, or they might provide some advice or helpful information. Of course, they might not reply. There are many reasons why this might be the case -- they are unlikely to have anything to do with you so please do not take it personally. But, you might take this as useful information in your decision making about what lab might be the very best fit for you.
Should I discuss my identity?
If you are a member of an underrepresented or minoritized group you are welcome to indicate this directly in your application, if you are comfortable doing so. This can be sensitive and you may be apprehensive. Please know that our department is committed to diversifying science across gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic dimensions. We are cognizant that individuals from many groups have been excluded from science and, being driven by empirical data that back up this point, we understand that a lack of diversity hurts our science as well as our commitment to a diverse, inclusive, and equitable society. Our department community standards are available online.
Sharing identity information with us can help us to explore creative solutions to funding, fellowships, etc. and to point you toward resources. You might wonder when you should share this information. You might weave this into the Research Application, note it in the application materials, or have a direct conversation with your prospective faculty mentor in an email or video chat.
Can I request a waiver of the graduate application fee?
After you submit your application, our system will ask you to pay a $25 application fee. Collectively, across applicants this fee covers administrative costs of recruiting and we have worked to keep the fee as low as possible. However, let us be clear that we do not want the application fee to be a barrier to your application. Please request a fee waiver if, for any reason, this fee is a burden to you. All you need to do is to click the ‘waiver’ checkbox in the application process. Your request will be granted without you having to provide a detailed explanation. This request will not be linked in any manner to your application to graduate school.
Should I submit a copy of my transcripts?
List all the Colleges and/or Universities you have attended from which a degree was obtained. Upload a copy (in English) of your most recent transcript(s) in PDF format. Any other format will not be accepted. A copy of your Transcripts must be uploaded by December 1. Since fall grades are not required, please submit your transcripts NOW. Transcripts will be kept on file until you submit your application.
How much does the program emphasize GRE scores and/or GPA?
We appreciate the data demonstrating that GRE is not a good predictor of graduate school completion, time to degree, or who will leave the program in the first year (see this study). Although we request that you submit GRE scores, our admissions process does not involve sorting applications by GRE nor do we have a GRE ‘cut off’ below which we do not consider applications. We do not require the Psychology Subject test of the GRE. We take a similar approach with grade point average (GPA).
Who should I ask to write Letters of Recommendation for me?
Three letters of recommendation are required. At least two should be from faculty or recent employers. Recommenders should know you relatively well and be able to evaluate the quality of your academic and professional abilities. Please send the email requests to your recommenders as early as possible and well before the application deadline.
How do I craft a Research Statement?
We ask that you submit a research statement no longer than 1-2 pages. This short document is meant to provide a brief history of your education and research experience, and the future work you intend to pursue in graduate school. This is the main way for you to share your interests, skills, and background knowledge so that a faculty member can determine whether you would be a good fit to their lab and to the graduate program.
Be sincere, honest, objective. Take time creating this document. Write and edit. Set it aside for a bit and come back to it. Perhaps ask a trusted friend or faculty mentor for input. If possible, reach out to a research or academic mentor to read and comment on your statement. They've likely had to write their own, or have helped other students with similar writing in the past. If you do not have mentors who can read your statement, you can reach out to online communities (e.g., SPARK Society) to solicit feedback.
Your statement should describe your prior experience, how it prepared you for our graduate program. Your goal should be to convince your potential faculty mentor that you would be a terrific (future) collaborator with them and a fit to their laboratory. Describe your specific experiences in detail and indicate your role. If you have been involved in research, describe the project objectives and results in as much detail as you can and describe what you did on the project. Finally, describe the general research area you hope to pursue in graduate school. This may or may not be directly linked to what you studied as an undergraduate. Your job is to articulate what excites you about spending the next 5 years getting deep into Ph.D. research and why you are a good candidate to take on this training.
Often, applicants will indicate faculty members that interest them in the Research Statement. Please note that it is entirely ok to identify multiple faculty mentors with whom you might like to work. We value collaboration and there are Ph.D. students jointly mentored by departmental faculty members.
Where do I indicate the faculty member with whom I’d like to work?
You can bring this up in the Research Statement. There is also a specific place to enter faculty names in the application materials. Since individual faculty play a large role in admitting students to their lab, being attentive to this step in the application is important. It will help direct your application to the right readers.
How much will it cost to work toward a Ph.D. in your program?
All Ph.D. students in our programs are fully funded regardless of immigration status. This means that Ph.D. students do not pay tuition and the department pays all students a stipend. Stipends are set annually at a level that allows for a good quality of life in Pittsburgh. Ph.D. students’ health insurance is offered (vision and dental are available out-of-pocket) through the Aetna Student Health Plan. Students also receive free city bus transportation, free access to wellness and fitness facilities including an indoor pool and group exercise classes, and the ability to register for classes outside degree requirements (at either CMU or University of Pittsburgh) for free.
What’s the difference between the Psychology Ph.D. and the Cognitive Neuroscience Ph.D.?
Our department awards two Ph.D. degrees, a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience. The core curriculum, the teaching training, and departmental opportunities are common between these two degrees. Students pursuing a Cognitive Neuroscience Ph.D. take on an additional four courses: Systems Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Cellular Neuroscience and Computational Neuroscience. This additional training is equivalent to the certificate program provided by the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC). Please note that if you pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology (and prefer that degree name), you may still take on the additional training through the CNBC and earn a ‘certificate’ in Cognitive Neuroscience. We are flexible; Ph.D. students and their faculty mentors arrive at the best training program for them, even if that might change along the course of graduate study.
What’s the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC)?
The Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) is a cross-institutional enterprise linking Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh (which sits just a few minute's walk from CMU). Over 200 world-class faculty across all areas of neuroscience are connected through the CNBC. The CNBC offers a certificate program open to students pursuing Ph.D.s in CNBC-affiliated departments (like CMU Psychology). Trainees take a set of core courses in cellular, systems, computational, and cognitive neuroscience. They also engage in various activities fostering cross-campus interaction among individuals interested in the neural mechanisms of cognition. Students may apply for membership when applying to a CNBC-affiliated doctoral program like CMU Psychology, or at any time after their admission to the Ph.D. program.
Students pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology may add the CNBC certificate to their training. This is equivalent to the requirements of the Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience. Which route you choose is your preference. Of course, there are Psychology Ph.D. students who are unaffiliated with the CNBC, too. There is great flexibility in the path you choose, and it is not necessary that you decide at the time of application.
Is there anything special I should consider as an international student?
We welcome applications from international students! Our Ph.D. program is greatly enriched by students who bring diverse perspectives from all over the world.
If you are an international student, you will be asked to share your TOEFL scores as an indicator of your proficiency to study and work in English. You must submit TOEFL scores if your first language is not English and you completed your undergraduate degree at a non-US institution (even UK and Canada). Please note that the test scores expire after 2 years. Our TOEFL institution code is 2074. Our TOEFL department code is 08.
CMU offers resources like the Intercultural Communication Center to support Ph.D. students whose native language is not English. Our Office of International Education (OIE) is expert in helping international Ph.D. students to obtain the proper visas to study in the US. The OIE also hosts events throughout the academic year to help international students navigate issues such as Optional Practical Training (OPT) and internships. The CMU Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) is a student-led government body and advocates for all issues pertaining to graduate student life at CMU, including international students. The GSA also hosts a resource page for international graduate students. In addition, CMU has several other resources and organizations to support the specific needs of international students outside of their academic or research programs. The CMU Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI) frequently hosts programs and events to elevate the voices of under-represented students and would be of interest to both domestic and international students. Many CSDI events foster community building across different corners of our campus. CMU Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) provides workshops and programs tailored for the mental health and wellness of international students.
If you have specific questions about your circumstances, please reach out to our Graduate Student Program Manager, Erin Donahoe, with questions.
I’d love to know more, can I get all the nitty-gritty on program details?
Please carefully read these Frequently Asked Questions for important specifics regarding our application instructions and procedures.
Where can I find the application?
Please use our online application.
What should be in my application?
You must submit the completed application form, official transcripts of all college or university attended, an of your GRE scores sent to us from ETS, 3-5 letters of recommendation, and official scores of your TOEFL or Duolingo exam. If English is not your native language, the scores must be sent to us directly from either ETS or Duolingo.
Transcripts: List all the Colleges and/or Universities you have attended from which a degree was obtained. Upload a copy (in English) of your most recent transcript(s) in PDF format. Any other format will not be accepted. A copy of your Transcripts must be uploaded by December 1. Since fall grades are not required, please submit your transcripts NOW. Transcripts will be kept on file until you submit your application.
Please note that transcripts or test scores are not updated as received until you submit your application and pay the application fee.
What are you looking for in the application materials?
We take into account your academic training, research experiences, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, GPA, personal statement, and other available information in our admission decisions.
Am I qualified to apply to your Ph.D. program?Our program is extremely competitive, however, we do not have "cut-offs" for QPA or GRE scores. Students entering our program generally receive GRE scores in the 80th percentile on both the math and verbal components, writing GRE scores of 4+, and a GPA of 3.5+. Students have successfully been admitted to the program with scores below this level. The reason we do not have "cut-offs" is that we know that there are many other factors involved including your academic background (e.g., the school you attended, the classes you have taken), and whether or not you have research experience and/or publications. The extent to which your research interests match those of faculty members is also a very significant part of the admissions decision. With this in mind, you may wish to contact faculty members directly to determine whether they are accepting graduate students in the following year and whether your research interests overlap with theirs. If you have any further questions, please contact Dr. Vicki Helgeson.
I do not see my college/university listed in the drop-down box in the Education section of the application. What should I do?
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know your college/university is not in the drop-down box. We will need to know the full name and address of the school. Please also include the country if it is an international school. We will add the name of your school to the drop-down box so that you may choose it for your application. Please allow a few days for us to get it in the drop-down list.
Can I make changes to my online application after it has been submitted?
You may return and make changes to your submitted application until the December 1st deadline.
I have requested my transcripts and test scores are sent, but my application has not been updated?
You must first submit your application and pay the application fee before receipt of test scores or transcripts will be updated.
Deadlines and Fees
When is the final application deadline?
All application materials must be received in our office by the December 1st deadline. All application materials include the following: submitting the application, $25 application fee, transcripts, 3-5 letters of recommendations, GRE Scores, TOEFL or Duolingo Scores.
When are the transcripts due?
All transcripts are due December 1st, regardless of when you submit your application Because fall grades are not required, please upload your transcripts as early as possible. They will be held until you submit your application. Please note that transcripts or test scores are not updated as received until you submit your application.
When are the letters of recommendation due?
All letters of recommendation must be submitted by December 1st.
When are the GRE and TOEFL scores due?
All official GRE, TOEFL, and Duolingo score reports are due December 1st. It is strongly suggested that you plan to take all required tests by the end of October. Scores from tests taken in November may not arrive in time for the review process. Scores from tests taken in November or later will not be considered.
GPA/QPA Cut offs
Do you have QPA/GRE Cut Offs?
We do not have "cut-offs" for QPA or GRE scores. Students entering our program generally receive GRE scores in the 80th percentile on both the math and verbal components, writing GRE scores of 4+, and a GPA of 3.5+. Students have successfully been admitted to the program with scores below this level. The reason we do not have "cut-offs" is that we know that there are many other factors involved including your academic background (e.g., the school you attended, the classes you have taken), and whether or not you have research experience and/or publications. The extent to which your research interests match those of faculty members is also a very significant part of the admissions decision. With this in mind, you may wish to contact faculty members directly to determine whether they are accepting graduate students in the following year and whether your research interests overlap with theirs.
GRE and TOEFL
What are the institution and department codes for the GRE?
Our GRE institution code is 2074.
Our GRE department code is 2016
What are the institution and department codes for the TOEFL?
Our TOEFL institution code is 2074.
Our TOEFL department code is 08
When do GRE and TOEFL scores expire?
ETS keeps GRE scores for 5 years. TOEFL and Duolingo scores are valid for 2 years. If ETS or Duolingo no longer has your scores, you will need to retake the test(s).
I used the wrong codes. What should I do?
It is your responsibility to submit the score reports with the correct codes. Please have them sent again with the correct codes as stated above.
What is the recommended TOEFL score?
A successful applicant will normally have a total iBT score of at least 100 and must have a minimum speaking score of 23.
Am I required to submit a TOEFL score?
If your native language is not English, then you are required to submit an official report from the TOEFL or Duolingo (160 point exam). If you are currently working on or have received a bachelors and/or a masters degree in the US and your native language is not English, the English proficiency requirement will be waived.
Do you accept the IELTS?
NO. We only accept TOEFL scores.
Do you accept the MCAT Scores?
Yes. If applying to the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), our admissions will accept MCAT scores. Also, please send your MCAT scores directly to the address listed below.
Graduate Admissions Office
Department of Psychology
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
My recommenders have not received the email requests or the reminder emails that were sent. What should I do?
First, make sure that you typed the correct email address, and then ask them to check their spam filters. If the email can not be found, please ask them to send their letters in pdf format to email@example.com. They must put "Upload recommendation letter for (your name)" in the subject line. Uploads will not be completed here until early December. Remember that our offices are closed over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. We appreciate your patience.
If I submit an online application, can my recommenders use the paper recommendation form?
No. Recommenders must submit their letters online. We no longer accept any paper recommendation forms.
What should I do if the deadline is approaching or has passed and one or more of my recommenders has not submitted their recommendation?
You may send a reminder email to a recommender from your submitted application. It is your responsibility to make certain that the letters are submitted by the deadline of December 1st. Any letters not received by the deadline may not be considered.
What if I want to submit more than three letters of recommendation?
Three letters of recommendation are required; however, space is provided for you to submit up to five. At least two should be from faculty or recent employers. Recommenders should know you relatively well and be able to evaluate the quality of your previous work.
Who should I ask to write letters of recommendation for me?
The admissions committee wants to know about your ability to do independent research. You should select letter writers who can best speak to that point. Professors who interacted with you extensively in smaller classes are also a good choice. Employers are sometimes appropriate, but letters that are simply character references will not provide good support for your application.
My recommenders have not submitted their letters. Can I submit my application before they submit?
Yes. Do not wait for the letters before submitting your application. Recommenders have a longer period of time to submit their letters.
How and when will I be notified if I am admitted?
Our programs make their decisions at various times during December and January. You will be notified directly by each program that you applied to, as to whether or not you have been admitted. All applicants will receive notification of their status by March. We realize that waiting is very difficult. However, we request that you do not call our offices to inquire about the status of your application.
How do I check the status of my application?
Please do NOT send email to ask the status of your application. Use your User ID and password to access the submitted online application form. Receipt of the required documents (score reports, transcripts, and letters of recommendation) will be indicated in the corresponding section. Please allow two to three weeks past the deadline for all documents to be recorded. We receive a large volume of mail, and it does take time to process each application. Our offices are closed during the Christmas and New Year holidays (Dec. 22 - Jan. 2) which may further delay processing.
When will I find out whether or not I was accepted into the program?
Admissions Decisions will be made no later than April 15th. We will notify you of your admissions decision via email once our admission decisions have been completed.
Graduate Student Stipends and Tuition
Do you offer a living stipend and tuition coverage?
General Program Questions
Do you offer a Master’s Program?
Do you offer a clinical program?